As Malaysians, we’re all too familiar with poor road conditions. But according to a new report by The Star, approximately 60% of roads in Selangor alone are structurally damaged, or have “expired.” This causes issues such as potholes or tarmac degradation that have seemingly no end.

It’s a compounding issue primarily caused by two factors – old roads and overloaded lorries. According to state infrastructure and public amenities, agricultural modernisation and agro-based industry committee chairman, Izham Hashim, many of the roads in Selangor are between 30 to 40 years-old.

“Roads usually reach maturity within 15 to 20 years, depending on usage. After this period, upgrading works have to be done, particularly to the subgrade and sub-base layers,” he said, adding that temporary measures like road patching will not help improve road conditions. Having overloaded vehicles drive over these degraded surfaces further aggravates the problem.

If the solution exists, why can’t road repair works be carried out? Well, in Selangor alone, there are five authorities responsible for roadworks – Federal Public Works Department (JKR, which oversees maintenance for federal roads), Selangor JKR (state roads), local councils (council roads), district offices (village roads) and Drainage and Irrigation Department (agricultural roads). Highways, on the other hand, fall under the jurisdiction of the Malaysian Highway Authority and project concessionaire.

“Because there are many agencies involved, issues such as budget constraints and lack of communication delay road maintenance. Local councils and Selangor JKR have an allocated yearly budget to fix roads under MARRIS (Malaysian Road Record Information System) fund, whereas there is no such system for federal roads,” explained Izham.

Back in 2019, he proposed to consolidate the ownership and maintenance of Selangor roads to just two agencies — the local councils and the state JKR. However, the process was slow and discussions were still under way, he said.

Jurisdictions aside, the state is keen to fix ageing roads. Izham noted that there were talks between the state and Selangor JKR to identify damaged roads, and apparently, these roads are already being scheduled for repair works. The problem is, it would take an estimated 10 years to properly fix several thousand kilometres of damaged roads, and repair costs vary depending on road condition, size and required materials.

“We cannot wait until we have enough funds to carry out the repairs on all the roads, it must be done in phases. At the same time, we are also building more roads so we cannot dedicate all the funds to upgrading,” he said, and added that priority will be given to high-usage roads and based on the number of complaints. Slowly but surely, right?

Contractors that are hired by utility and development companies also contribute to the issue. According to Izham, subpar remedial works by contractors (usually involving digging up roads for internet cables, water supply pipes and electricity cabling) have often caused local councils to forfeit their deposits because of shoddy work. Stricter penalties are being considered to curb such irresponsible acts.

The government is considering to introduce the Selangor Utility Corridor, where the aforementioned utility lines would be installed in a common underground trench by the side of the road. “For now, this will be possible in new areas and development. For existing utility lines under roads, it will take massive effort to relocate them and space is limited in many areas. In the meantime, the state has plans to introduce new methods in road repairs and maintenance,” said Izham.

“Jet and thermal patcher machines are two options being considered to fix potholes and cracks. The jet patcher does not require cutting of the road; instead, it coats the pothole with a heated bitumen emulsion which seals the pothole. A thermal patcher uses a heated metal plate to soften existing bitumen before a new bitumen mix is used to fill the hole.”

Izham said the state is also conducting feasibility trials for artificial intelligence (AI) drones that are used for continuous monitoring of potholes and cracks. The drone can identify these issues and automatically relays the information to the command centres.